Fiore, partners battle it out for Basalt trailer park
September 2, 2008
BASALT ” A power struggle is under way for control of the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park in the heart of Basalt.
Three partners in Roaring Fork River Development LLC filed a lawsuit recently in U.S. District Court in Denver to wrestle management of the mobile home park away from Western Peak LLC and its managing partner David Fiore. The partners claim they cannot effectively manage the park because limited liability companies controlled by Fiore won’t provide vital financial information.
Robert Loncar, Joseph T. McCullough and James Otis Jr., all of the Chicago area, filed the lawsuit. Fiore’s Western Peak and another firm controlled by him are defendants, as well as a bookkeeping firm used by Western Peak.
The lawsuit says the three plaintiffs were among investors in Roaring Fork River Development that voted to remove Western Peak as manager of the trailer park earlier this year.
“I have zero control of it right now,” said Fiore, who is trying to buy the mobile home park from his partners but is uncertain if they will accept his offer.
Fiore said the lawsuit appears to be a “retaliatory move” after business relations soured between the partners. “It’s like being in a bad marriage,” he said of the ownership dispute.
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Fiore has been the face of the ownership group since it bought the trailer park in 2003. Fiore lives in the Basalt area. He is president of the Basalt Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, and he sits on the Basalt Regional Library District’s board of directors. He regularly attends Basalt Town Council meetings and comments on affordable housing issues as they relate to the trailer park.
The Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park and adjacent Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park have been at the center of controversy for several years. Studies commissioned by the town of Basalt show that the trailer parks are imperiled by flood threats. Both are located on the banks of the Roaring Fork River, just below the confluence with the Fryingpan River. Makeshift dikes hold back high water on years when the spring runoff is high.
Fiore and his partners want to close the Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, provide replacement housing for the residents on property they own by Basalt High School, dedicate half of the trailer park as open space and develop the remainder with a mix of commercial and residential develop.
A nonprofit housing branch of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver is a partner in the proposed affordable housing project by the school.
The proposal has split Basaltines. Some people see it as a rare chance to add a substantial amount of housing for low-income residents; others see the replacement housing site as suburban sprawl.
The Basalt Town Council majority wouldn’t review the replacement housing project because the site is outside the “urban growth boundary” or area the town government deems appropriate for high-density growth. Fiore submitted an application for the project to Pitkin County, but the review is on hold and the proposal remains in limbo.
The redevelopment plan has been discussed for the last three years. The delays and complex political issues appear to be wearing down the patience of the investors.
“There’s no doubt there’s an extreme frustration with the project not moving forward,” Fiore said.
The attorney for Fiore’s partner, George Allen of Telluride, didn’t return a call seeking comment.
Fiore said at least one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit is experiencing “financial struggles” that may be dictating his moves. “This economy has proven to be challenging on developments and investors nationwide, and I hope that Western Peak’s offer to purchase the Roaring Fork River Developments LLC provides a viable means to help some of my investment partners out during these financial hard times,” Fiore said in a written statement after he was asked for comment about the lawsuit.
The litigation also raises issues about the management and operations at the Little Red Ski Haus, which Fiore purchased in 2001 with some of the same partners that bought the mobile home park. Fiore’s company, Western Peak LLC, managed both the Ski Haus, a historic ski lodge in Aspen, and the mobile home park.
Western Peak was terminated as the manager of both the lodge and the trailer park, the lawsuit said, and a new management firm was hired for the mobile home park. But taking over management wasn’t easy, the suit said.
The plaintiffs allege that Western Peak teamed with its bookkeeping firm “to divert the assets and accounts of Little Red Ski Haus LLC and Roaring Fork River Development LLC to Western Peak and has refused to account for the business affairs” of those entities. The lawsuit further claims that the assets and finances of the ski lodge and trailer park were comingled with Western Peak, effectively converting them into Western Peak’s possessions.
Unless Western Peak and its bookkeeper turn over the financial records of the Ski Haus and Roaring Fork Mobile Home Park, it will be impossible to lawfully operate the trailer park “not only to the detriment of the Plaintiffs, but also to the detriment and damage of the more than 50 low-income families who are tenants of the trailer park.”
“Without the availability of the low cost housing of the Roaring Fork River Development mobile home park, most, if not, indeed, all, of the families who reside there would be financially unable to provide effective shelter for themselves and would thus be placed at jeopardy for continued housing and continued employment in the Roaring Fork Valley,” the lawsuit alleged.
The three plaintiffs asked a judge to order Western Peak, an affiliated company and the bookkeeping firm to turn over all financial records of the trailer park and ski lodge. They want damages of at least $125,000 per plaintiff.
The business relations between the partners have soured to such a degree that they are bickering over Internet domain names. The plaintiffs claim a company affiliated with Fiore uses links to websites for the Little Red Ski Haus. They claim that constitutes common law copyright infringement because only Little Red Ski Haus LLC can use those domain names.
Fiore provided a written response to The Aspen Times when asked about the litigation. He said that his firm, Western Peak LLC, filed a private arbitration claim against the Little Red Ski Haus LLC to resolve a dispute over deferred development and management fees.
He alleged that the lawsuit filed by Loncar, McCullough and Otis is an apparent “retaliatory move.” The claims in the lawsuit will be found baseless, he said.
“Fiore and Western Peak have cooperated fully with both companies as they have transitioned management, and indeed continue to have a strong interest, financial and otherwise, in seeing both succeed,” Fiore’s written statement said.
Fiore said he hopes his effort to buy the mobile home park is successful, so he can continue to pursue his vision to relocate the residents in affordable housing in a safe place.